John Carter
dir Andrew Stanton
scr Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews, Michael Chabon
prd Lindsey Collins, Jim Morris, Colin Wilson
with Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Dominic West, Samantha Morton, Willem Dafoe, Mark Strong, James Purefoy, Ciaran Hinds, Thomas Haden Church, Daryl Sabara, Bryan Cranston, Polly Walker
release UK/US 9.Mar.12
12/UK Disney 2h22
John Carter
Fiery romance: Kitsch and Collins

west morton dafoe
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
John Carter While trailers make this look like an effects-heavy sci-fi mess, the film is actually a rollicking adventure firmly centred on characters rather than the creatures or action. It's an involving, strikingly well-made action drama.

At the end of the American Civil War, John Carter (Kitsch) is in Arizona looking for gold when a strange artefact in a cave transports him to Mars, known locally as Barsoom. Getting used to the lower gravity is one thing, but he's soon captured by green, 15-foot-tall Tharks, who have four limbs plus tusks on the sides of their faces. He earns the respect of leader Tars Tarkas (Dafoe), but when he rescues Helium's Princess Dejah (Collins), he ends up in the middle of the war between red human kingdoms Helium and Zodanga.

The story is bookended with scenes of author Edgar Rice Burroughs (Sabara), John's nephew, who has a key role in a plot that includes numerous characters who are inter-connected in complex ways. Dejah's father (Hinds) is about to sell her into marriage with enemy leader Sab Than (West), who's being manipulated by Matai Shang (Strong), a angel-like Thern. Meanwhile, John is accompanied by feisty Thark warrior Sola (Morton) and an enormous, slobbery dog-thing who's fiercely loyal to him.

The film is packed with these kinds of details, cleverly woven into the script to make the story funny, intriguing and thrilling. It's also extremely fast-paced, never letting up the tension as John is propelled from one dangerous situation into another, discovering things about himself that he never knew. And as we take this journey with him, we feel the punch of terror and exhilaration along with emotional resonance on a variety of fronts.

On a technical level, the film looks terrific. The effects work continually surprises us with animated characters who are thoroughly engaging, while the 3D camerawork makes nice use of the desert locations. And even if the story feels constructed, with action and emotional beats at key intervals, it never feels contrived. Like the 1977 Star Wars, it's a pure story of a young man looking into himself and deciding what's really important. OK, it's not that ground-breaking, but it bodes well for adaptations of Burroughs' 10 other Barsoom novels.

cert 15 themes, violence 19.Feb.12

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